Of all the new AFL rules introduced over the summer, who would have thought the restrictions on runners would be the most divisive?
While it has many high-profile supporters, it is actually the worst rule to come into the game since the ‘contact below the knees’ debacle.
The runner rule restricts their ability to enter the field of play after a goal has been scored.
They have a maximum of 40 seconds to run 100 metres, deliver their message and run back to the bench.
Usain Bolt didn’t make it as a soccer player, but he could now get a gig as a runner.
Those who like the new rule believe that coaches have far too much influence on the flow of the game and it means we can now finally ‘let the players play’.
The argument is that the smart players will come to the fore and in the heat of battle bring forth all their tactical nous. This is utter garbage.
Firstly, there are just too many scenarios that occur in a game of football to cover them all at training.
Every coaching team has ‘what if’ meetings that last for hours at the club during the week.
They discuss all the possible scenarios the opposition and the game may throw at you. ‘What happens if X gets injured? What happens if Y gets away from us? Who is next cab off the rank if Z isn’t performing?’
Players get told the major ‘what ifs’ and do actually coach themselves, but they can’t possibly know everything that the coach’s tactics require in the heat of the moment.
Players do not need to be entering a game with all these scenarios running around their heads. That is a recipe for paralysis by analysis. How does this ‘free them up to play’?
Secondly, the AFL brought in the six-six-six rule with the explanation that the fans they had surveyed wanted coaches to be innovative and to coach more.
It was argued the fans enjoyed it when their coach employed tactics that changed the game.
Clearly, having coaches sitting mute in their little box and unable to influence the game is counter productive to what the people want.
And finally, coaches will innovate no matter what. They will surely find other means to get their messages out.
Stand by for a stampede of doctors and physios running out on to the ground, inspecting a player’s thumb and also delivering a message.
This has been happening for 30 years and now it will happen even more.
Are they going to stop a doctor checking on a player? I doubt it. Plus every water boy will now be supplied with an Apple watch to pass on text messages as well as water.
Let’s remember why we have runners in the first place. We play on the largest playing surface in world sport.
A coach can’t yell from one side of the ground to the other, therefore we have runners to aid the coaching process.
Take away the runners and the coaches can no longer influence the game, which is where great coaches earn their stripes.
Would you tell a basketball coach they had to be completely silent except for during time-outs?
Would you tell Melbourne Victory coach Kevin Muscat he can’t talk or gesture to his players mid game?
Would you tell a cricket captain he can only move the field during a drinks break? It is ridiculous.
Players already know when to go fast and when to maintain possession late in games, that’s easy to institute. They won’t learn how and when to move a centre-half-back to full-forward to create a mismatch, or how to exploit an opposition coach’s move.
The ground is too big, there is too much happening at once, plus we play 18-year-olds with little football wisdom.
There is the potential that this rule even makes it riskier to play them in big games.
Every other coach in world sport is allowed to coach in real time. Ours should not be any different.